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Matt Seattle investigates the intriguing Lowland content within an old Highland

pipe tune collection

Matt Seattle

 AT THE LBPS Teaching Weekend at Melrose, earlier this year, George Greig kindly presented me with a copy of John McLachlan’s The Piper’s Assistant, not to be confused with Angus MacKay’s earlier book of the same title. According to Roderick D Cannon’s A Bibliography of Bagpipe Music, McLachlan’s book was first published in 1854, going through several editions until David Glen revised and recycled much of its contents in Book 9 of his own collection in 1892. It was re-reading Roderick’s comments in the Bibliography which prompted the present article.

He writes (p. 35): “This consisted almost entirely of tunes previously unpublished, and on glancing through the titles one might suspect that he was tapping a new vein of tradition, from the Scottish Lowlands, for we find Adam Glen, Hallow Fair, Maggy Lauder, The Fyket, The Souters of Selkirk and other tunes of that ilk. But it seems unlikely that the author had inherited or collected these tunes from oral tradition; more likely he took them from readily available song and fiddle publications.”

As Roderick notes, the book also includes “modern” compositions by Highland pipers (including an early appearance of The 79th’s Farewell to “Giberalter”), but what of the Lowland connection? After raising the intriguing question of traditional survival, Roderick cautiously deems it ‘Unlikely”. In the 26 years since 1980, when the Bibliography was published, a few more resources have become available which may help us weigh the arguments on each side, so let us examine the list of tunes given by Roderick to see whether any new conclusions are now possible.


Adam Glen

Adam Glen is given pride of place in McLachlan’s book. It is the first tune and comes with a four-verse lyric and a summary of Glen’s long and remarkable life. In addition, the book’s cover illustration purports to be Pawky Adam Glen, presumably drawn from the artist’s imagination as the subject had died in 1715.


But what of the tune, and the claim that Adam Glen composed it? It is an old friend, one of the triple-time hornpipes included by Gordon Mooney in his pioneering Collection of the Choicest Scots Tunes for the Lowland and Border Bagpipe. If Adam Glen was 89 in 1715, as stated, then he was born c. 1626, and we may assume that he could have composed the tune at any time from 1640 to his death. The tune is very widespread in later tradition, with versions in the literature of all the British and Irish piping traditions under a long list of titles (see my previous article on harmonic proportion). Although its finest flowering is William Dixon’s The New Way to Morpeth, somebody must indeed have composed the original version, so why not Adam Glen?

There is basically no way of proving or disproving McLachlan’s claim. His version, published 139 years after the alleged composer’s death, is the earliest appearance of the tune under this title, but it appears much earlier under many other titles, Dixon’s being the earliest known version as well as the fullest and most musically interesting. No firm proof of authorship then, and we should also note the fiddle versions in the well known publica- tions of Bremner (Miss Murray’s Reel) and Gow (Bob and John) which are similar to each other as well as to McLachlan’s considerably later version. But, although this weight of evidence in the written tradition gives us ample reason to err on the side of caution, we cannot completely discount the possibility of a late survival in oral tradition: given the tune’s near-certain origin as a pipe tune, Adam Glen is the only and therefore the most plausible suspect we have as its composer.

Hallow Fair

A simple pipe jig which I previously published in The Border Bagpipe Book, having found it in the Gillespie fiddle manuscript (Perth, 1768).

McLachlan’s version is very similar but not quite identical to Gillespie’s, which in turn probably derives from the version published by Neil Stewart, Edinburgh, c. 1762. There are so few known versions of the tune that traditional survival is not as likely as with the previ- ous one, and I would guess that McLachlan got it directly or indirectly from Stewart’s book.

Maggy Lauder

With Maggy Lauder (or Maggie Lowder, etc), the situation is so complicated that any permutation of oral tradition and editorial adaptation is possible. The tune is still well known today and occasionally sung with its ribald tale of Maggie and Rob the Ranter, while there are at least 21 published versions listed in various parts of Gore’s Index, so McLachlan hardly needed to tap into any hidden source to find it. As a song air and fiddle tune, its com- pass goes outside the nine-note range, but McLachlan’s version only creaks a little. He has two different attempts at adapting the closing phrase or tag, the second of which is a stab at the attractive quaver passage, found in most fiddle versions, which goes well below the pipe range. While neither attempt strictly follows the melodic contour of fiddle or song versions they do both work as melody in their own right, and the simpler first attempt also chimes with the harmonic drift of the original.

One oddity of McLachlan’s version is its opening phrase: every other version encoun- tered but one begins the first complete bar on the tune’s tonic (D), but McLachlan starts on the low 5th (A). The Clough family version also does this, but close study of the Clough manuscripts shows we cannot always be sure they wrote what they played: as with New Highland Laddie (Kate Dalrymple), they may have simply put the upbeat on the wrong side of the bar line. Anyway, whether or not there is a tenous link with Northumbrian tradition, McLachlan’s departure from the norm suggests that he may have followed an oral rather than a written source on this point at least.

The Fyket

The Fyket is a classic pipe reel built on a variant of the Elsie Marley pattern. Note the use of the 6th of the scale (F#) as the first accented melody note, a strong feature of a small group of Border pipe tunes including All The Night I Lay With Jockey, Hey My Nanny, and Golden Locks.

Although the earliest texts of this tune are in fiddle collections this is simply because there are many more early fiddle collections than pipe collections (NB: the tune of this name in Gordon Mooney’s collection is not the usual Fyket). As with Maggy Lauder, there are any number of possible written sources (17 published versions listed by Gore plus many manuscript sightings), but none of those I have seen exactly matches McLachlan’s. It may be that he copied from a source I have not seen but in the meantime I am happy to give him


the credit for his setting.

It is excellent. Not only does it follow the traditional harmonic template more faithfully than some fiddle versions (e.g. Gow’s Third Repository) but it uses melodic variation effectively to expand the tune into unrepeated eight-bar strains rather than repeated four-bar ones.

Concerning the claim (also made by Gow) that the tune is “Very Old”, this is indeed the case. It is a direct descendant of a tune which crops up in older sources under the generic title Scottish Gigg, Scotch Jigge etc: the version in Pete Stewart’s The Day It Daws (tune No. 47) is from a manuscript dated 1659-70. Some things are built to last.

The Souters of Selkirk

This is of course a Border tune par excellence. It is recorded in so many different versions that they could easily make up a book of their own, but this is a very rare sighting in a Highland pipe collection, and it has some very interesting characteristics.

Almost all versions of the tune begin the first complete bar on the 3rd of the scale, C#, but McLachlan begins on the 5th, E. The other version I have seen which does this (Gore lists two more) is the variation set in Charles McLean’s A Collection of Favourite Scots Tunes, c. 1774. McLean’s set has ten strains and includes some good material I have not seen in other versions. Although it is highly decorated in Dixonesque style, it is possible to see that McLachlan could have derived his first three strains from it by a process of simplification, as the respective melodic outlines correspond closely up to that point. The surprise in McLachlan’s version is his strain 4. The openings of bars 1 and 3 with their out-of-place G natural and of bar 2 with its (“open”) grip are typical replacement strategies (bodges) for pinched high B, a note usually associated with the Border pipes, but also mentioned in one old tutor for Highland pipes.

This feature, and some of the touches in Maggy Lauder and The Fyket, suggest that McLachlan did not take his tunes “from readily available song and fiddle publications” in the sense of copying the settings, but rather that he did inherit some of them from oral tradi- tion, or else reworked them himself into the versions he published, or some mixture of the two.

We started out by asking a simple question about written sources and oral tradition, but in practice there is no clear distinction between the two. They constantly overlap, reinforcing and informing each other, reminding us that traditional music, like life, is more complicated and interesting than any ideas we may have about it.


Many thanks to George Greig for providing the tune scores reproduced here.



Roderick D Cannon, A Bibliography of Bagpipe Music, Edinburgh, 1980.

Gordon Mooney, A Collection of the Choicest Scots Tunes etc., 2 vols, Linlithgow, 1982-3.

William Dixon, manuscript, Northumberland (probably), 1733, now in A K Bell Library, Perth. Edited and published as The Master Piper by Matt Seattle, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, 1995, revised Peebles, 2002.

Charles Gore, The Scottish Fiddle Music Index, Musselburgh, 1994. John McLachlan, The Piper's Assistant, Edinburgh, 1854.

C Ormston & J Say, The Clough Family of Newsham, Morpeth, 2000. Matt Seattle, The Border Bagpipe Book, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, 1993. Pete Stewart, The Day It Daws, Ashby Parva, 2005.

George Greig, who printed out the tunes for this article, writes: There is one good thing which comes out of this: my preferred software is Piobmaster which is great for modern Highland gracing. However it does not support some of the older style which has gone out of fashion, though it still remains in Irish music. I have written out the first nine bars of Maggy Lauder using ABC to reproduce what McLachlan wrote, to show the differences in style. For example, currently, a strike on D would use the grace-note combination GDC whereas McLachlan uses EDC (see bar 1). Bar nine is repeated at the start of the penulti- mate line. As far as I am aware, these are the only bars which differ from McLachlan’s original.